Making Sense of Breaking News

Like many people, I was glued to social media on the night of November 13th as the terrorist attacks on Paris unfolded. When something terrible like that happens, it is easy to become confused and bewildered by the conflicting reports that fly around on TV and online. So I decided to write a guide to understanding and demystifying the kinds of sources (newspaper articles, TV and radio reports, live blogs, social media posts, visual images etc.) that you will encounter in all forms of the media when a major news story is breaking. But what qualifies me to write such a guide?

While studying for a degree in history some years ago, I was taught how to analyse and interrogate sources of all kinds; a skill which has come in handy when attempting to understand how breaking news works. By ‘analyse and interrogate’ I mean placing a source (whether written, illustrated or audio-visual) in its wider context in order to understand and assess it. This involves asking a lot of questions about the source, its origins and its creator – the who, what, where, why, and when that you will see in this brief guide to interpreting and making sense of the media’s reaction to breaking events. The answers to those questions can help you decide whether a source can be trusted or whether it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt…


Who wrote/produced/directed/photographed/filmed this source? Are they a professional journalist/photographer/film-maker? Or are they a member of the public who happened to be there at the time and snapped a photo or filmed events with their phone then posted it on Facebook? If they’re a professional, what do you know about them? What can you find out about them? Are they well-known for personally having a particular political bias? Or do they work for a media outlet known for having a particular political bias? How might this affect their work?

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September Update

Much to report, but I’m going to start by sending a huge thank you to Rick, Fi, Ian and Rose for their brilliant 5th birthday guest posts – and an equally huge thank you to everyone who read those posts and responded on Twitter, Facebook and in the comments here. A fantastic way to celebrate five years of Another Kind Of Mind!

If you missed any of the birthday posts, you can find all four of them here:

Guest Post: Music just isn’t that important these days…

Guest Post: Why do we love music?

Guest Post: Music or Lyrics?

Guest Post: Mental Illness – Stigma and Why We Choose To Stay Silent

I have lots planned for the next few months, including more in my World War One series of posts, a bit of the usual general randomness you’ve all come to expect round these parts, some dramatic and destructive 17th century history, and my recommendations for building a library of books about music.

And, on the subject of music, I have also been busy adding loads of new Debut Albums Top 50s to the List of Lists over at the Top Fifty Albums Lists blog. Please get in touch with me if you too have compiled a Debut Albums list and haven’t sent it my way yet!

As well as all this, my offline life is about to get busier again and I may not be around quite as much in the near future – I’ll be beginning a part-time MA course with the Open University in October (but don’t worry, it won’t stop me blogging…!).

Thank you again for all your recent input and responses – and here’s to another five years of Another Kind Of Mind.

claire x

PS: Despite the fact it’s only September (how did that happen anyway?), I’ll soon be turning my mind to my now-traditional Christmas posts. I’m not sure yet as to which seasonal topics I’ll be covering this year, so if you have any bright ideas or suggestions, please get in touch – it would be great to crowdsource a few Christmassy posts for this festive season!

Quick Update

I just realised I haven’t posted anything in almost a month – my apologies for that. Unfortunately real life and a painful back injury have eaten into much of my recent blogging time, but I will be back very soon with some brand new posts and a few that have been promised for quite a while…

In the meantime, you can still find Another Kind Of Mind on Tumblr (feel free to follow), or you can tell me off for slacking on Twitter (ditto).

Thanks for your patience!

The Murdoch Statement

After a day of high drama in the Commons culture, media and sport committee (custard pies included) during which Murdochs Senior and Junior amusingly and inadvertently managed an uncanny resemblance to The Simpsons characters Mr Burns and his grovelling aide Smithers, Rupert Murdoch insisted on delivering a statement. And I couldn’t resist reproducing it in full here for you to ponder over. Or laugh at. Whichever you want, really:

My son and I have come here with great respect for all of you, for Parliament and for the people of Britain whom you represent.

This is the most humble day of my career.

After all that has happened, I know we need to be here today.

Before going further, James and I would like to say how sorry we are for what has happened – especially with regard to listening to the voicemail of victims of crime.

Continue reading “The Murdoch Statement”

Earthquakes and scammers

It was just after 1am on February 27th 2008. I was still up and at my computer when I heard what sounded like a loud crash. My first thought was that my noisy downstairs neighbours were playing silly buggers again, but then everything started to shake. The earthquake – for that was indeed what it was – only lasted a few seconds, but it was strong enough to make its impact felt in large parts of the UK.

At a magnitude of 5.2, the earthquake I and many others felt that night, although deeply disconcerting, was absolutely nothing compared to the massive quakes experienced in recent months and years by countries as diverse as Haiti, Chile, New Zealand, and now Japan (in fact, some of the many and continuing aftershocks that have resulted from Friday’s terrible Japanese quake have been significantly more powerful than that).

As a demonstration of the enormous and unstoppable power of nature, the sheer destructive force of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday was truly awesome (in the original sense of that word) – and, scientifically, as it reached a magnitude of 9.0, it was also one of the most powerful recorded quakes of the last 100 years or so.

The results of this powerful earthquake have been devastating, even in a country as well-prepared for and as used to earthquakes as Japan. Many settlements on the affected coastline have been swept away by tsunami waves up to ten metres high, and a number of the country’s network of nuclear power stations have been seriously (possibly catastrophically) damaged by the quake.

Continue reading “Earthquakes and scammers”

Lost and Found

Regular readers will know I have a taste for the slightly bizarre and seriously random slow day ‘news’ stories that emerge every so often – and this one is a real gem.

A large hotel chain has released a list of the various things that guests have (either accidentally or deliberately) left behind in their rooms after check out. This list contains fairly ordinary things like books, mobile phones, false teeth, briefcases and teddy bears, but also includes some seriously odd items that really make me wonder about the great British public…

Like a four foot long yam, found abandoned in Cambridge. Or the six and a half thousand pounds worth of gold teeth discovered in a Bridgend hotel room. Or the keys to a Rolls Royce Phantom, left behind in Chester. Or the suitcase full of Victorian royal memorabilia forgotten by a Gatwick Airport guest. Or the poor little Bengal kitten who was thoughtlessly left behind at a hotel in the Docklands area of London.

Then there’s the forgetful individual who somehow managed to leave a diamond-studded Rolex watch and ten grand in cash in a hotel waste bin (how these ended up in the bin in the first place is a bit beyond me!). And the person who forgot they’d brought an antique rocking horse with them when they checked in.

But the most bizarre find of all has to be a life-sized Dalek. No, seriously. A life-sized Dalek, miserably abandoned in a hotel room with little else to do but exterminate any remaining bath robes and those nasty little shampoo sachets (plus any unwary members of the housekeeping staff unfortunate enough to get in its way).

I mean how do you forget you own this sort of stuff? Do people get half-way down the motorway and think: “I’m sure I’ve forgotten something… No, I’ve got my suitcase and my mobile and I’ve paid my bill. What can it be?… Dammit, I left the life-sized Dalek in my hotel room!”

Raoul Moat: Hero or Villain?

After a week-long manhunt in the wilds of Northumbria, involving the RAF, search and rescue teams, Met police firearms officers and armoured cars sent over by the PSNI, Raoul Moat is dead.

What has interested me most during this whole sorry saga of guns and testosterone is the differing attitudes of sections of the British public towards this man.

There are some who appear to see Moat as a sort of folk hero (almost in the Harry Roberts mold) because he had a grudge against the police, acted on it, and managed to evade them for so long – although if the press blackout on Moat’s communications had been lifted sooner some of this group may possibly have changed their view on that…

There are others who are sympathetic to Moat’s actions because he had “issues” and clearly needed help. Ex-footballer Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne, who has publicly battled his own demons, appears to have been one of this group, turning up in Rothbury last night with a dressing gown, a can of lager and a fishing rod in order to ‘save’ his pal ‘Moaty’.

When contacted on holiday abroad, Gazza’s manager Kenny Shepherd perfectly encapsulated most people’s bemusement at this peculiar turn of events with this astonished comment:

“He’s doing what? I am sitting having an evening meal in Majorca. I’m speechless.”

Continue reading “Raoul Moat: Hero or Villain?”

Weird Week

It has, as ever, been a weird week in the world of politics (on both sides of the Atlantic), what with the somewhat disturbing leadership love-in between David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and Barack Obama being propositioned rather embarrassingly by an enthusiastic woman who described him as a “hottie with a smokin’ little body”. Indeed. Ahem.

But it’s been an even weirder week back in the real world. Well, as real as it ever gets in the British media… So, for your puzzlement, delight and delectation, I’ve gathered together a few of the oddest news stories to emerge in the last seven days or so…

How to Upset a London Cabbie:

Easy – do naked yoga on his cab roof, like this female anti-war protester did yesterday. No, seriously. Her attention-grabbing five minute nude peace protest brought traffic to a halt not far from the Houses of Parliament until she was escorted away by the Met (who presumably managed to keep a straight face). At least she picked a relatively warm day to publicly realign her chakras.

(Warning: possibly NSFW)

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Blair Peach: the Final Verdict?

Southall, West London, 23rd April 1979:

It was St George’s day, and the far-right National Front had decided to celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of England by holding a provocative meeting in the heart of Southall, an area of west London which was then (and still is) home to several large and vibrant Asian communities.

Unsurprisingly, the situation was tense, made even more so by the presence of the Special Patrol Group (SPG) of the Metropolitan Police. This specialist riot squad had already made a violent reputation for itself, and the events of 23rd April 1979 were the beginnings of its eventual downfall and replacement with the equally nasty Territorial Support Group (TSG).

Just like Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper vendor killed at last year’s G20 demonstrations by a member of the TSG, Blair Peach was attempting to get home when he fatally encountered the police. A New Zealander, Peach was a teacher and anti-fascist activist who had come to Southall that day to protest against the NF.

In the midst of confrontations between protesters and police, Peach was separated from his friends as they tried to make their way out of the chaos. At least ten people saw and later gave consistent accounts of what happened next.

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More Election Propaganda – and the 2nd Leaders’ Debate

They (whoever they are) say that a week is a long time in politics. And this last week or so has indeed been both long and eventful – as far as the general election campaign is concerned anyway. Thursday night saw the second of three televised leaders’ debates, this time on foreign policy issues. To this observer at least, the debate seemed to be more fiery and bad-tempered than that of the week before.

Voices were raised, impatient interruptions were made, very little of any actual substance was said, and there was much less agreeing with Nick this time – David Cameron publicly accused a sneery Gordon Brown of scaremongering and being an out-and-out liar, and they both laid into Nick Clegg in a seemingly pointless effort to flatten ‘Cleggmania’ before it can become truly politically dangerous.

It is interesting to see Brown and Cameron (as well as certain parts of the media) so obviously threatened by a man previously as politically anonymous as Nick Clegg. Both Labour and the Tories always knew that this was going to be a close-run election campaign, but the (perhaps not entirely unexpected) emergence of the Liberal Democrats has got them rattled now – the fact that the old two-party system is now being blown wide open can easily be read as further proof that the electorate is heartily sick and tired of the current, broken political system.

Continue reading “More Election Propaganda – and the 2nd Leaders’ Debate”